Effects of Plastic Pollution on Deep Ocean Biota and Ecosystems
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The deep ocean acts as a sink for plastic pollution. What is less known is how the plastics will affect deep ocean biota and ecosystems. Plastics break down due to physical and chemical forces to overcome their initial buoyancy in the water, and are often covered by living matter to help weight them down. Water movement and certain geologic features also help distribute plastic to the deep ocean. Plastic pollution's effects on the deep ocean biota can include ingestion, inhalation, smothering, introduction of toxins, bacteria, viruses, and potentially diseases into organisms, the spread of invasive species to new ecosystems, and much more. Plastics also have the potential to alter the composition of the sea floor from that of a soft-bottom surface to more of a hard-bottom surface with very little oxygen and opportunity for gas exchange, affecting many sessile and infaunal organisms. These factors have the potential to decrease species populations and biodiversity. Additional areas of study that would greatly benefit the knowledge of how plastic pollution affects deep ocean biota and ecosystems include more research on how plastics interacting with hydrothermal vent fluid can affect surrounding organisms, as well as looking into if plastics from the deep ocean can be upwelled and the potential effects on having microplastics mixed in with the nutrient-dense waters. Due to the resilient nature of deep ocean plastics, the fragile nature of deep ocean ecosystems, and the ability of plastics to affect the health, mobility, and habitat of deep ocean biota, it is reasonable to predict significant negative impacts on deep ocean ecosystems. Mitigations to these issues are most efficiently tackled by reducing the source of these plastics, but effects of deep ocean plastic pollution will likely continue even after plastic production, consumption, and improper waste disposal is reduced.
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